Do Whale Sharks Have Teeth?
When the biggest shark in the world swims straight at you with its mouth wide open, it’s a sight you’ll never forget. And that’s exactly what happened when we went swimming with whale sharks in Mexico. The rules dictate that you must always stay at least two meters away from the sharks. But they can travel quickly in any direction and if you can’t get out of the way fast enough you might have a whale shark close encounter like the one Hal did.
The good news is that a whale shark is not going to eat you. They are filter feeders, sifting tiny plankton and fish eggs from the sea. That’s why their mouths open so wide. They need to filter a lot of water to get the nutrients required to power their giant bodies (up to 40 feet long!) So why do whale sharks have teeth?
Even though whale sharks are filter feeders, they still have teeth; as many as 3,000. But whale shark teeth are so tiny you can hardly see them. Check out this awesome photo taken by Ross Robertson at the Smithsonian Institution. If you count you will see more than 20 tiny whale shark teeth in each row.
Now look closely at an enlargement of my whale shark photo you will see a narrow plate just inside the bottom lip where these rows of teeth reside. Each one of those little lines is a row of whale shark teeth, each about the size of a pencil lead. I count about 150 rows. 150 x 20? Yep, that adds up. Researchers are still unsure of what purpose whale shark teeth could possibly serve.
We went swimming with whale sharks in Holbox Island, just north of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. You can also catch whale shark tours from Cancun and Isla Mujeres.
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Brindley is an American conservation biologist, wildlife photographer, filmmaker, writer, and illustrator living in Asheville, NC. He studied black-footed cats in Namibia for his master’s research, has traveled to all seven continents, and loves native plant gardening. See more of his work at Travel for Wildlife, Truly Wild, Our Wild Yard, & Naturalist Studio.